If there were any uncertainty Gov. Paul LePage’s top priority this winter is to deny health coverage to 70,000 low-income adults, his administration’s misleading, all-out assault this week against expanding Medicaid should leave no doubt in anybody’s mind.
It’s not often that state commissioners of labor, education, marine resources and inland fisheries and wildlife comment publicly on issues unrelated to their agencies. But the fact that they were called on this week to join the administration’s disingenuous anti-Medicaid expansion campaign speaks to how important a priority it is for LePage’s administration to thwart expansion.
Denying health coverage to the people least able to afford care is, apparently, so important that LePage is willing to spend some of the last remaining political capital his administration has to oppose it.
On Tuesday, LePage’s labor commissioner, Jeanne Paquette, released an explanation of how a growing Medicaid budget has crowded out funding in the state’s general fund for priorities within her agency. “Forced by state funding cuts, DOL in 2007 and 2008 had to close almost half of its 22 CareerCenters,” Paquette wrote in the essay, titled “Growing Medicaid Budget Forces Cuts That Prevent Mainers from Getting Trained for New Jobs.”
It’s blatantly dishonest to blame spending on one state program for spending that didn’t happen in another. The LePage administration could just as easily blame public school students for preventing state spending on training programs for the unemployed. And when the LePage administration blames Medicaid for crowding out spending in other areas, he’s essentially blaming the elderly and disabled. After all, 5 percent of MaineCare recipients account for 55 percent of the program’s cost, and the highest-cost members are the elderly and disabled who require intensive, long-term care services.
Plus, Medicaid can’t even be blamed for the CareerCenter closures in 2007 and 2008. General fund spending on Medicaid actually dropped 6 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review. Then, 2008 marked the beginning of a steep slide in state revenue collections as the national economy entered a deep recession.
On Wednesday, commissioners from the state’s natural resource agencies blamed a ballooning Medicaid program for, among other things, their inability to launch a more vigorous social media outreach campaign to gin up interest in hunting and fishing in Maine.
Then on Thursday, newly minted Education Commissioner Jim Rier wrote in a missive on the Department of Education’s website: “Were it not for past expansions of the Medicaid program, I believe the State would currently be funding its share of education at 55 percent.”
If LePage’s logic were reality, and education funding rose when Medicaid spending dropped, the state would have reached its obligation to fund 55 percent of public school costs during the depths of the recession. Between 2009 and 2010, state general fund spending on Medicaid dropped $121.6 million when enhanced federal funding made up the difference.
But education funding also dropped during that period — because state revenues also dropped. Receipts from the individual income and sales taxes fell nearly $100 million from one year to the next.
So, why is LePage relying on his cabinet members to spread deceit about the impact of expanding Medicaid? Many of his cabinet members have credibility among lawmakers from both sides of the aisle. Just last week, Rier won unanimous confirmation in the Senate to become education commissioner.
Since LePage himself has so little power to persuade, and because Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew’s is increasingly limited, he’s relying on the remaining credible voices in his administration to do his bidding.
Meanwhile, caught in the middle are the 70,000 low-income parents and childless adults without health coverage.